New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has after initially directing partial disclosure of information about the Naga peace talks has now decided to uphold the Centre’s decision to keep the accord confidential in “public interest.” The commission had previously ordered that information relating to the remuneration paid to government official, also known as the government interlocutor for Naga peace talks, be disclosed.
It was in relation to the Naga accord signed between the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM (NSCN-IM) and the government in August 2015 that RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak had filed an application with the home ministry seeking the contours of the agreement.
Nayak, who is a programme coordinator at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said that following the pact, a press release was issued by the prime minister’s office (PMO) which termed the accord a “framework agreement” and hinted at releasing the details and the execution plan soon after. However, when no information emerged about the contents of the accord even a month later, Nayak filed an RTI application with the PMO under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Framework agreement details sought
The applicant had among other things demanded a copy of the framework agreement, all communication received from every source in relation to that agreement and details of the compensation package along with the monthly remuneration paid to the government interlocutor mentioned in the news release and all other persons providing him assistance.
The Centre was initially not prepared to confirm who held a copy of the Naga accord, Nayak said, adding that the central public information officer of the PMO replied that they did not hold a copy of the framework accord and transferred the RTI application to the North East Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Initially, the MHA also said that it did not hold a copy of the accord.
When Nayak pursued the matter further and filed a complaint with the CIC, it was finally revealed that the government’s representative for the Naga peace talks, R.N. Ravi, who is also the chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee, holds the Naga accord. He had also signed the Naga accord on behalf of the Centre in August 2015.
On CIC’s directions, the MHA also disclosed that the NSCN leaders paid for their own travel and accommodation during their visit to Delhi to sign the accord. “About Rs 13.07 lakhs had been paid to the two consultants hired by the office of the government of India representative for Naga peace talks,” Nayak said, adding that “the remuneration paid to the representative himself was not disclosed.”
Later, the CIC upheld Centre’s decision to keep the Naga accord confidential in public interest. Surprisingly, till the fourth hearing in the case in April, the MHA had contended that it did not hold any information. Then, under pressure from the CIC, MHA confirmed that the government’s representative for Naga peace talks held a copy of the Naga accord and that it (MHA) itself was the competent authority to take a call on whether to disclose the information or not.
Nayak said the MHA then argued that the information sought could not be disclosed on grounds pertaining to national sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the nation.
Is there really a zero tolerance policy towards militant groups?
Nayak argued that people have the right to seek clarity about the official policy of the Centre towards militant groups that challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India – especially in view of its zero tolerance policy towards such groups – and that the contents of the accord had become a matter of widespread public debate during the recent assembly elections in Manipur.
He added that NSCN spokespersons were making public statements about their version of the contents of the Naga accord, the CIC in its last hearing called for the text of the accord and other related documents for in-camera examination.
Final decision after in-camera examination of documents
Nayak said subsequently the government representative for Naga peace talks provided an overview of the situation regarding the ongoing parleys during the open part of the hearing while the actual records were examined in camera after the CPIO and the applicant were asked to exit the chamber.
Thereafter, the CIC ruled that it will uphold the MHA’s decision not to disclose the contents of the framework accord as doing so would prejudicially affect India’s sovereignty and integrity and the security and strategic interests of the state. Unfortunately, Nayak said, after the final hearing, the NSCN spokesperson made some more statements about the contents of the accord.
He said with the CIC having taken its decision, it was now for the citizenry, civil society and the mass media to press the Centre for disclosure of the details of the accord and the current state of the parleys as a large number of people continue to suffer the consequences of the actions of the non-state players.